Historically energy provision was controlled via national networks through very large energy utilities. With the move away from fossil fuels the days of large power stations being the main sources of energy supply are numbered no longer the major sources of energy upon which we once depended. Now the use of localised power plants generating energy from municipal waste or the development of district heating systems or the use of local renewable technologies the opportunity exists for more efficient planning and management of energy provision to address needs at the local and regional level. The City has a long history of innovation and developing collaborative partnerships to solve problems and seize opportunities and now facing the challenge of climate change is no exception.
The ‘Regional Energy System Operator’ (RESO) Project looks to explore the advantages of a new kind of energy system operating at city scale. The system will include local low carbon energy generation, storage and management and will integrate future mobility assets such as electric vehicles into its overall envelope. Those involved in the development of the project are ensuring that the approach will be replicable so that the benefits can be translated more widely into other city and suburban areas.
Rich data flows supported by superfast digital networks will allow thousands of small energy interactions between all the components to balance and optimise local energy flows. This moves away from the traditional energy system approach of large power stations and one-way energy flows. If this is seen to be successful then the use of digital wireless technologies for real time energy instructions and transactions addressing supply and demand at the local level should avoid the need for lots more copper in the ground. The use of local intelligent control should negate the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades upstream as the energy flows will be managed at a local level. This approach is already being developed and used at campus scale, at Warwick University, the project seeks to understand whether it can be applied at a larger scale with multiple customers.
A critical part of the project’s development is how to incentivise multi-levelled participation in a fully integrated local energy system, from individual householders and small businesses to large scale renewable power generators or developers and operators of heat exchange networks. The project aims to propose a local energy market to allow full empowerment of local stakeholders who should benefit from reduced energy prices as well as local jobs and future development investment. Having a diverse range of localised sources of heat and power in addition to supplies imported from outside the region should help to promote the efficiency of supply to meet local demands. The replicability of this approach will also be tested by applying it to East Birmingham and North Solihull to ascertain key similarities and differences.
The project is being brought forward with a leading edge group of partners, led by Energy Capital part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), including Coventry City Council, University of Birmingham, University of Warwick, ENZEN Global Ltd, Electron Ltd, Camirus Ltd, Western Power Distribution (WPD), Cadent Gas, and Places in Common. The total project value is £2.62 million (of which £1.54 million is directly grant funded by Innovate UK).
Ultimately, this two-year project looks to produce a detailed design for a smarter energy system in Coventry with clear governance structures and a commercial model motivated to produce local benefits. The project will need to provide a practical and investable alternative to a traditional centralised energy system development if we are to meet our challenging climate change goals.
Photo Credit: Powering West Midlands Growth – A regional approach to clean energy innovation